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How to Stay Dairy-Free at Restaurants

Eating out is meant to be fun, so don’t let your dairy-free diet get in the way. The key to staying dairy-free without spoiling your enjoyment when you’re eating out is to keep things in perspective and to remain optimistic. That includes taking steps to help ensure that you have as many options as possible wherever you go.

Part of staying positive includes being proactive about making sure dairy-free dining options are available to you when you eat out. Planning ahead is a fundamental step in successfully making the transition to a dairy-free diet.

Before you go out to eat, give some thought to the circumstances in which you’re likely to find yourself. Thinking about how you’ll handle your meal before you leave your house may help make the process smoother after you reach the restaurant. A few questions to consider include:

  • Will you be eating out with a group? If so, be sure to voice some suggestions for restaurants. If you have some say over the choice of the restaurant, you may have a better chance of landing at an establishment that can cater to your dietary needs.

  • What can you do to help prepare for the meal options you’ll have when you eat out? Give some forethought to what you may be able to order. If necessary, phone ahead and ask about potential options.

  • What will you order? If you know where you’ll be eating ahead of time, you may be able to study the menu before you leave your house.

  • Should you grab a snack before you leave home? If it looks like you won’t have many choices where you’ll be eating, you always can eat something before you leave home. That way, you can order something light, enjoy the company, and not worry about going hungry.

Where you choose to eat can have a big impact on how easy it is to eat out dairy-free. Some restaurants have more choices than others, and some restaurants are more likely than others to be able to accommodate special requests.

The advantage to eating at finer restaurants — as well as family-run restaurants — is that they’re more often in a position to accommodate special requests. So, for the greatest degree of flexibility and likelihood that you may order foods that are dairy-free, seek out finer restaurants or better family restaurants. These establishments are more likely to prepare your food at the time you order it, so there’s an opportunity for you to ask them to hold the cheese sauce or leave the mozzarella off the baked ziti.

In contrast, chain and fast-food restaurants are more likely to serve ready-made foods. This situation makes it difficult (or impossible) to remove the Parmesan cheese, milk, cream sauce, or mozzarella coating before serving you.

Menu-Item Alternatives
Instead of This Ask for This
Nachos with cheese Nachos minus the cheese (and no sour cream)
Fettuccine Alfredo Fettuccine with marinara sauce
Loaded baked potato Baked potato minus the cheese and sour cream (ask for a side of salsa instead)
Caesar salad Salad without Parmesan cheese and creamy dressing
Greek salad Salad without feta cheese
French onion soup Onion soup minus the melted cheese on top
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